You are a dwarf. You have a spouse. You live in a cave that’s in desperate need of a makeover and a plot of land that is ripe with opportunity to create the most beautiful farm filled with grains, veggies and of course, animals! While the theme of Caverna may not sound like it will be any fun, don’t be fooled because it is an excellent game that offers tight strategy and a feeling of great satisfaction as you develop your land and end with something that’s truly unique every time you play.
Caverna is a worker placement and resource management game where the goal is to build the wealthiest home for your family of dwarves. Each round, players will take actions available only to them when they place their workers on an action space. Like many other worker placement games, a player can increase the number of actions they take by acquiring more workers – and in the hilarious case of Caverna, this happens in the form of wishing for children. Because how else is a family supposed to grow in size?
Some of the other actions that you can take include collecting resources that allow you to build fields and pastures to hold crops and farm animals, or furnish your cave with unique rooms that grant bonuses or open new strategies for end-game scoring. In Caverna, you can even train your workers to become warriors and go on expeditions and reap a great deal of loot! Part of the joy in Caverna is discovering the many paths to achieving victory and figuring out how to best implement your strategy.
The resource management element of this title comes into effect at the end of several rounds, when you may be required to feed your workers. Throughout the course of the game, you’ll want to produce enough crops and animals to convert into food, ensuring your family is well fed. Failing to do so incurs a penalty in the form of a beggar token, which gives negative points calculated at the end of the game and this is one of the most punishing mechanics of Caverna. Characteristic of Uwe Rosenburg titles, it is inevitable that you will lose points in any one of his games, but it’s up to you to decide how to minimize the impact of that loss.
The game plays over 12 rounds, and each round reveals a new action space, providing more variety and opportunities to develop your farm and cave dwelling. While 12 rounds may seem like a lot of time to get your engine running smoothly, you’ll soon find that the game will come to an end well before you can do everything you want. Caverna is all about being as efficient as possible with a limited amount of time, while adapting your strategy based on what actions are available to you during your turn. It’s a puzzle I enjoy tackling quite a bit.
If there’s one thing that Caverna offers in spades, it’s the sheer amount of custom components that come inside the game. All of the animals and resources are individually shaped and coloured – there isn’t a single wooden cube present in this game! The cardboard pieces as well are nice and thick, which makes upgrading your farm so satisfying when you hear the ‘click’ of laying the tiles onto your player board.
You can probably imagine that due to all of the different components that setup can be pretty lengthy – and it is. One thing that I did to reduce the overall setup time and table footprint of this game was purchase a custom insert for my copy of Caverna. Broken Token makes fantastic laser-cut wooden inserts for a variety of games that are worth checking out, as they are impressive to look at and easy to assemble. Be warned however, that the inserts aren’t cheap, as they can cost about as much as a brand new game! Alternatively, if you’re handy with a cutting knife, you can make your own inserts using foamcore found at your local craft store and there are many resources online to help you with creating your own insert.
I’ll admit that I had Caverna sitting in my collection for over a year before I actually brought it on the table to play. Despite its critical acclaim, I was intimidated by the amount of components and tiles, all which made this seem like a very complex Euro game. However, after finally committing some time to sit down with the rulebook, I found that the gameplay was fairly easy to learn and apply, making Caverna a pleasant medium-weight game. Because of the wide variety of choices that players can make on their turn, Caverna doesn’t feel like a “mean” worker placement game, where you’re at risk of being completely blocked off from making an optimal play.
Surprisingly, Caverna accommodates up to 7 players, however I would suggest that you play this game at most with 5 people, as there would be quite a lot of downtime in between turns, especially if you play at the full player count.
Overall, Caverna is a wonderful game with a whimsical, lighthearted theme and an easy recommendation from me if you’re looking for something that is both engaging and strategic, while doing away with any of the cutthroat competitiveness that you may find with similar games. Great fun, Caverna is a must-play!
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